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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

WaPo: Boswell: For Many Teams, Small-Ball Efforts Are Being Richly Rewarded

Get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in, get ‘em…with “brains and judgment”?

It’s no accident that the rise of mid-market teams has coincided with the decrease in performance-enhancing drugs. The artificially inflated sluggers and strikeout pitchers of recent years commanded the most astronomical salaries. Plenty of the richest didn’t cheat. But too many did. To reach the top of the heap, some teams had to hold their noses and pay inflated salaries for superstars with muscles-from-a-bottle. Now, that’s changing.

Last season, home runs were down almost 10 percent in the majors. Only one man hit 50 homers. More important, only 27 players hit 30 home runs—less than one per team. That would be comparable to just 15 players with 30 homers back in the many decades when there were only 16 teams. Homers are still a bit too cheap, but that’s due more to the cozy new retro ballparks than cheating. The tiny yards of Philadelphia and Cincinnati would have added dozens of homers for Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Frank Robinson, who now see their career totals threatened by suspect 21st-century gentlemen.

Repoz Posted: March 29, 2006 at 12:54 PM | 29 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: nationals, orioles

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   1. BDC Posted: March 29, 2006 at 01:39 PM (#1923830)
This is the kind of analysis that you sort of wish were true, because it's so rhetorically well-crafted, taking a bunch of occurrences and weaving morals and trends out of them. Good writing makes sense of the world. Boswell is a very good writer. The topos: less is more. Makes sense to me.

Then again I look at the American League and see that the four defending playoff teams are from Boston, New York, Chicago, and L.A. of A. -- your basic huge markets, none of them hurting for payroll. The smartest and smallest-ball of them just took on huge contracts in Paul Konerko and Jim Thome, your basic fence-busters.

To say nothing of the deeply massaged assertion that Alfonso Soriano is somehow not essentially a home-run hitter.

Sigh. I think that sometimes writers who perceive trends actually weaken their argument by trying to make all the evidence align with the trend they're pushing.
   2. Dr Love Posted: March 29, 2006 at 02:03 PM (#1923840)
the rise of mid-market teams

What rise? The only non-major market playoff team last year was the Padres, and they weren't very good.
   3. Shooty is obsessed with the latest hoodie Posted: March 29, 2006 at 03:04 PM (#1923903)
I would love to see teams have success with "small ball". I miss the 80's when you could have a team like Harvey's Wallbangers go up against Herzog's speed and D team in the world series. I like it when teams have different personalities. That said, when was there ever a time in the recent past when small ball was a dominant offensive strategy? Herzog's Cardinals were pretty extreme, but even Herzog would admit that Jack Clark was that offense's engine. The 60's Dodgers? They had some good pop on that team, relative to their park. The early 80's A's? Dwayne Murphy and Tony Armas supplied a lot of power for that team. I guess I'm just wondering what era of baseball Boswell is nostalgic for? The Frank Chance led Cubs? Rube Foster's Giants? It's nice to see speed become a factor again, but I sure as hell don't see any teams out there that prefer speed to power. And I can't remember a team that ever did.
   4. LSR Posted: March 29, 2006 at 03:46 PM (#1923973)
Last year there were 1.01 HR/G in the National League. In 1955 when Willie Mays hit 51 dingers there were 1.04.

Maybe we should discount Willie's totals because of his environment?

Seriously, for some reason everyone seems to ignore the fact that when Banks, Mays, Mathews, et al were cranking 'em out in the '50s, they were playing in what was, until the last 7 years, the most HR friendly environment in history.

How many people realize that it was easier to hit HRs in the 1950s than in the 1990s? Between 1950 and 1959 there were 8 seasons where the average HR/G in the NL (where most of the premier sluggers played) was .90 or higher - between 1990 and 1999 there were 6 such seasons.

And yes, it did get more difficult for Mays and friends in the '60s ... but not as difficult as it would be in the '80s for Murphy, Dawson and friends.

Were Aaron and Mays great homerun hitters? Hell yes! But is it possible that they also benefited from the era they played in? Definitely yes.
   5. salvomania Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:20 PM (#1924123)
What rise? The only non-major market playoff team last year was the Padres, and they weren't very good.

Dr. Love, St. Louis is one of the smallest markets in major-league sports.

Don't confuse payroll or attendance with market.
   6. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:26 PM (#1924129)
Maybe we should discount Willie's totals because of his environment?

Weren't the Polo Grounds actually a pretty severe pitcher's park? I know that it was a hitter's era, but that place was a cavern, wasn't it?
   7. Dizzypaco Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:28 PM (#1924135)
Whenever people talk about how there is more parity, or how the big market teams don't win all the time any more, what they really mean is that the Yankees aren't winning the world series every year like they did in the late 90's. That's the only major difference between the late 90's and today.
   8. Cabbage Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:32 PM (#1924141)
Dr. Love, St. Louis is one of the smallest markets in major-league sports.

When you use the local tv markets, yes. But you've got to remember that regional cable brings Fox Sports Midwest to Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois south of Decatur, etc. The Cards have a decent sized market spread out over an abnormally large geographic area.

Certainly its a testament to their popularity in the greater st. louis region that their attendance is so high for weekday games, but a very siginifant percentage (note: I'm making this claim based on anecdotal evidence) of attendance on weekend games comes from families making a 4 hour weekend trip into the city for their annual weekend of Cards games.
   9. Mefisto Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:42 PM (#1924156)
Weren't the Polo Grounds actually a pretty severe pitcher's park? I know that it was a hitter's era, but that place was a cavern, wasn't it?

Polo Grounds park factors '51-'57:
101,101,102,101,100,99,100

Nobody could hit the ball out to center, but down the lines was easy. The wide OF made for lots of extra base hits.

Another interesting point is that for most of these years the NL parks were very tightly bunched. The park factors were generally in the range 97-103; nothing like today where a park like Colorado dominates or like in the 70s when Dodger Stadium and the Astrodome did for pitchers.
   10. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: March 29, 2006 at 05:45 PM (#1924159)
The Polo Grounds in the fifties was about as neutral as a park could be. It really rewarded pulling the ball in the air, and was so deep in the power alleys and straight away CF that it tended to turn HRs into doubles and triples as often as it turned them into outs. It also had massive amounts of foul territory which benefitted pitchers.
   11. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 29, 2006 at 06:47 PM (#1924267)
from the mid-market teams in last year's World Series...

Nothing like the mid-markets of Chicago (3rd largest in the U.S.) and Houston (4th)...

But, as Opening Day arrives, at least 20 teams are firmly convinced that their budgets will not prevent them from making the playoffs.

So, only 10 teams have a shot at 8 playoff spots?
   12. Shiny Beast Posted: March 29, 2006 at 06:53 PM (#1924282)
Last year there were 1.01 HR/G in the National League. In 1955 when Willie Mays hit 51 dingers there were 1.04.

Maybe we should discount Willie's totals because of his environment?

Seriously, for some reason everyone seems to ignore the fact that when Banks, Mays, Mathews, et al were cranking 'em out in the '50s, they were playing in what was, until the last 7 years, the most HR friendly environment in history.


Of course, the main difference then and now is those guys in the 1950's weren't widely perceived during their time as having acquired at least some of their power by illicit means.

Has there been any definitive study about how baseball got from the 1950's style to mid-80's Whitey-ball? What were the factors? Bigger parks? Deader balls? The diversification of the player base?

And could it happen again? (After watching the WBC, I am wondering if an increasing amount of MLB players coming from the Pacific Rim will have an effect of this sort.)
   13. The Keith Law Blog Blah Blah (battlekow) Posted: March 29, 2006 at 06:54 PM (#1924285)
So, only 10 teams have a shot at 8 playoff spots?

Will NOT prevent them from making the playoffs, Barry.
   14. Shiny Beast Posted: March 29, 2006 at 06:55 PM (#1924287)
Nothing like the mid-markets of Chicago (3rd largest in the U.S.) and Houston (4th)...


I don't understand it, either, but Houston is definitely mid-market when it comes to payroll and, I guess, regional TV revenue.
   15. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: March 29, 2006 at 06:59 PM (#1924297)
The Polo Grounds in the fifties was about as neutral as a park could be. It really rewarded pulling the ball in the air, and was so deep in the power alleys and straight away CF that it tended to turn HRs into doubles and triples as often as it turned them into outs.

What I meant was that it was hard to hit homers in the Polo Grounds, because the statement was specifically about Mays' homers. What was the Park Factor for homers only?
   16. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 29, 2006 at 07:02 PM (#1924303)
I don't understand it, either, but Houston is definitely mid-market when it comes to payroll and, I guess, regional TV revenue.

So they choose to spend less on payroll, and run their company inefficiently.
   17. MM1f Posted: March 29, 2006 at 07:03 PM (#1924307)
"When you use the local tv markets, yes. But you've got to remember that regional cable brings Fox Sports Midwest to Arkansas, Tennessee, Illinois south of Decatur, etc. The Cards have a decent sized market spread out over an abnormally large geographic area."


Indeed. And even farther than that. Its less so now with expansion teams and other games teams on TV but the Cards still have a pretty wide fanbase in all sorts of places, esp in the south and west. I know people whose grandparents would grow up Cards fans no where near StL and it would just get passed down.
   18. Shiny Beast Posted: March 29, 2006 at 07:24 PM (#1924353)
So they choose to spend less on payroll, and run their company inefficiently.


Less as compared to what? Or whom? They choose to spend less even though they have more to spend? Because they say they don't.

I'm not sure I get the inefficient part.
   19. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: March 29, 2006 at 07:31 PM (#1924371)
I'm not sure I get the inefficient part.

I think he's saying that they don't maximise their market.

I don't know if I agree - I think there's only so much a team can do to generate interest, and populations aren't blank slates. Interest in baseball does vary by region.
   20. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 29, 2006 at 07:47 PM (#1924409)
Less as compared to what? Or whom? They choose to spend less even though they have more to spend? Because they say they don't.

If I've been lectured correctly, large population market equals a lot of money to a baseball team. Big markets result in big revenues and that results in winning baseball. Thats how it all works. Just see the Yankees. They are run by monkeys, but they're fortunate enough to be surrounded by 20 million other monkeys.

The Astros are in the 4th largest market in the country, in a state somewhat supposedly interested in baseball. Natural law tells me they must have huge revenues, therefore, they are choosing to have a lower payroll than they can support, given their revenues.

I'm not sure I get the inefficient part.

If their tv revenues are low, it's cuz they aren't marketing themselves well.
   21. Dizzypaco Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:00 PM (#1924433)
The Astros are in the 4th largest market in the country, in a state somewhat supposedly interested in baseball. Natural law tells me they must have huge revenues, therefore, they are choosing to have a lower payroll than they can support, given their revenues.

Several problems with this statement. First, its not clear at all that Houston ranks 4th in terms of market size. A glance at 1998 MSA figures shows it ranks 10th, not 4th. Things may have changed in the past 8 years, but not that much.

Second, a fan base is not restricted to the MSA. Some teams have a fan base that extends for several states, such as St. Louis, the Cubs, or Boston; I don't believe the same is true for Houston.

Third, I have never thought of Texas as being a state where people are particularly interested in baseball - I don't live there, but my perception is that football is king, and baseball clearly is second for most residents.

Given all of this, I'm not at all sure that they are being inefficient with their resources.
   22. Eraser-X is emphatically dominating teh site!!! Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:08 PM (#1924454)
The White Sox, even if we ignore the Trixie phenomenon, are still only half of the 3rd largest market. That might be large or mid-market, but it's a misnomer to just say they have the 3rd largest market to work with.

It seems like Houston would have an even greater advantage as the largest single-team market. It's not just being in a big market, it's being in a big market that is not carved up by multiple teams. New York supports this as a market than can support six teams, but only has two.
   23. Mug is the antichrist to you Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:28 PM (#1924493)
Houston's market potential is debatable, of course, but you can't be mid-market in payroll. Your payroll can be somewhere in the middle, but that's not a market measurement. If the Yankees decide to cut their payroll to $10M, that doesn't make them small-market.
   24. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:42 PM (#1924532)
Colorado has gone from a large market team to a small market team in 5 years. And I thought Denver was growing.
   25. Paul M Hates Krispy Kreme Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:47 PM (#1924542)
Finally, Alfonso Soriano, who was traded for upper-cut-swinging Brad Wilkerson

Someone needs to get their noses of a spr...ehm, column, and watch some games. Soriano does nothing but uppercut.

Maybe it's just because he loves that curveball in the dirt that he can't reach that I have that perception.
   26. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: March 29, 2006 at 08:47 PM (#1924543)
I think it's time to break out this again. It's not a census, mind you, but people are definitely looking at it in terms of potential television market.

Looking at this, if anyone's underutilising their market, it's the Phillies.
   27. Ben Posted: March 29, 2006 at 09:55 PM (#1924675)
Houston seems pretty bad, though. It's not just size of the actual market, it's sharing of nearby markets. Detroit, regionally, has to deal with the Brewers, White Sox, Cubs, Indians, Reds, and Blue Jays. Houston has Dallas and that's it until you hit Tampa Bay and Atlanta. The whole Gulf Coast could/should be Astros territory.

Baton Rouge is about as far away from Houston as Youngstown, OH is from Detroit. Do you think there are any Tigers fans in Youngstown? I'd imagine that they are probably not even in the top 5 favorite teams there.
   28. Shiny Beast Posted: March 29, 2006 at 11:10 PM (#1924794)
A lot of good points here re: Houston.

In no particular order... the Gulf Coast pretty much is Astros territory, as far as that goes. Still, and I don't know if it is a cultural difference or what, I have a lot harder time imagining someone driving in even from Beaumont or Austin to watch an Astros game (except very rarely) than I do someone from Iowa or Nebraska driving to St. Louis... the team doesn't strike me as being all that good at marketing; their yearly team slogans (last year was 'It's on!' I think) are a local joke, and you cannot watch the entire schedule of TV games because of the screwy arrangement between FSSW and the local carrier... I don't think it can be overstated how much this is a football first area. People like baseball, love to play it and because of the weather they can 10 months or more. But definitely front-runners when it comes to attending games. I think the Rockets have problems, too, unless they are winning alot. But Texans games are well-attended, or at least sold out, and they are terrible.
   29. Mike Emeigh Posted: March 30, 2006 at 12:46 AM (#1924905)
the team doesn't strike me as being all that good at marketing; their yearly team slogans (last year was 'It's on!' I think) are a local joke, and you cannot watch the entire schedule of TV games because of the screwy arrangement between FSSW and the local carrier..


and the local papers are abysmal.

-- MWE

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